This post was originally published by John Tessier on August 16, 2013. It was updated by Alyssa Anderson on July 28, 2022.
The 7 Day Transfer Law in Massachusetts is one of the most misunderstood rules regarding registrations. Many drivers and auto dealers believe that the RMV allows you to transfer plates from one vehicle to another, and provides you with 7 days to process the transfer at the RMV. While this is true, there are certain stipulations involved.
The MA Law regarding the 7 Day Transfer Law is printed on all registrations. It reads as follows:
A person who has attained 18 years of age and who transfers the ownership of a registered motor vehicle or trailer owned by him to another or who loses possession thereof and who intends to transfer the registration of such motor vehicle or trailer to a newly acquired new motor vehicle or newly acquired used motor vehicle of the same type and having the same number of wheels may, subject to other provisions of this chapter, operate such newly acquired new motor vehicle or trailer or newly acquired used motor vehicle or trailer for a period beginning from the date of transfer until five o’clock post meridian of the seventh calendar day following the date of transfer within the period for which the transferred vehicle was registered; provided, however, that the number plates issued upon registration of the transferred motor vehicle or trailer shall be attached to the newly acquired vehicle. During such period any operator of the newly acquired vehicle shall carry an original copy of the bill of sale reciting the registration number to be transferred from the former vehicle to the newly acquired vehicle or the certificate of transfer issued by the dealer on a form approved by the registrar in place of the certificate of registration.
The purchaser of a new vehicle can transfer plates from another vehicle and has 7 days to register the vehicle ONLY if the owner loses possession of the vehicle the plates are being transferred from before purchasing the new vehicle. The 7 day countdown starts on the day the old vehicle is transferred to another party, not the day the new vehicle is purchased. Please note this is not 7 business days, but 7 calendar days. So Sundays do count.
Do you have a headache yet? Let’s break it down a little bit.
Plate transfer between vehicles
Let’s say I have a 2005 Chevy Malibu and decide to purchase a 2010 Ford Edge. I want to transfer my plates from the Malibu to the Edge. I am purchasing the Edge from a dealership and am trading in my Malibu. If I sign my title for the Malibu over to the dealer on or before the time I purchase the Edge then I have 7 days to drive around with my plates on the new car before an issue arises. If my Edge is not registered by the 7th day, then I can no longer drive the Edge until the plates are transferred in the RMV to the Edge.
Using the same example above, let’s say that for some reason at the last minute I do not trade in the Malibu, or perhaps do not drop it off and sign the title over to the dealer until the day after I purchase the Edge. In both cases I cannot legally drive the Edge with the plates for the Malibu attached to it.
Private party sales
The same is true for private party sales. If I purchased the Edge from a private party and decided I was going to sell the Malibu on Craigslist, I cannot put the plates from the Malibu on the Edge without registering the Edge first unless I sold the Malibu before buying the Edge.
The thought process behind this rule is that if you sell your car (or trade it in) before buying a new car, then you will need the new car in order to go to the RMV to get the plates transferred. If you still have possession of the old vehicle then you do not need the new vehicle to drive around in to get it registered.
If I buy a trailer or a commercial vehicle, I cannot use the plates from the Malibu, even if I no longer intend to drive the Malibu. Plates can only be transferred between vehicles of the same type. Passenger vehicles (such as the Malibu or the Edge) are not in the same category as trailers, and passenger and commercial vehicles have different types of registrations. If I buy a commercial vehicle or a trailer, it will need a whole new registration if I don’t already have an existing registration from a previous trailer or commercial vehicle.
You have 7 days to transfer the registration. Weekends and holidays do count. You do, however, have until 5:00 p.m. on the seventh day to have the vehicle properly registered. The transfer period begins as soon as you transfer ownership or lose possession of your currently registered vehicle.
The law does not require that you purchase the vehicle in Massachusetts. If you purchase your car in another state and are using transferred plates, be sure to carry all the appropriate documents to show your valid registration. It’s also advisable to have easy access to or carry a written copy of the Massachusetts law if you plan to drive through other states.
This law is only applicable to those who are 18 years or older, and you must carry a copy of the bill of sale in the new vehicle at all times until the registration has been transferred with the RMV. Unfortunately, if your child is a new driver under the age of 18, they will need to re-register their vehicle, no matter how they acquired it.
Failure to comply with all aspects of this law could result in your vehicle being impounded and hefty fines/vehicle storage fees. So, no matter who tells you that you can simply slap your old plates on your new car because of the 7 Day Transfer Law, be sure that this law actually applies to your situation.
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